What has been the role of Design Thinking in the 21st Century?
Updated: Jul 4
The 21st century has been revolutionary in the most multifaceted manner. The design industry has transformed as a result of globalisation. With the onset of technology, consumer goods are now a part of the global supply chains. While designing, a designer has to confront both global and local points of view. Hence, an international style and home-grown modular techniques are coming forth. Besides, Design as a medium transgresses the existing political, social, and economic structures. These fundamentals guide the process of creating new products and services. Across all industries, the innovation terrain is now more competitive than ever. Amidst the stiff competition, there is a reassertion of design value. As a consequence, design processes need to be more human-centred. Moreover, it outlines the role of design thinking in the 21st century for developing products and services.
There has been a paradigm shift in the definition of design. It is no more about making something look aesthetic. Instead, it aims at effectively communicating the brand and product behaviour. Designers are to use a strategic decision-making process. Across all industries, it is the need of the hour. Innovation requires a more targeted approach. It need not be linear but systematic in its manner. Besides, the design process involves providing the designers with a stake in brainstorming the company’s future. It gives them the freedom to have a say in the decision-making process within a larger team. They need the desired freedom such that they can rapidly prototype new products and test them. Applying the design thinking process in phases can lead to fabricating concrete and innovative solutions.
Design thinking in the 20th century was undergoing a transformation. In contrast to the earlier practice, the present one has been more successful. It has created new organisational and market values. Designers are in a position to lead the business development process. Close interaction, observation, and delegating power to these frontline employees help achieve it. The previous top-down approach of repackaging old ideas has become outdated. Through digital and physical tools, a tectonic shift in the medium of information exchange took place. An informed workforce and consumer sentiment constituted this shift. Keeping in mind the first principle of empathising with the consumer, design in the 21st century took a steep turn.
Today, developed economies are shifting to knowledge-based industries. The extensive use of technology and human capital complements consulting and service delivery. Developing nations like India and China have followed suit. Design thinkers are working to boost the output. Innovation requires an understanding of the large population in these countries. It includes coordinating between the needs of an inhabitant of a rural area and one from an urban area. The overlapping universal themes create opportunities for design thinkers.
Hence, it is creating ground for another tectonic shift. In this one, design thinking is no more relegated to the design of physical products. But the core consists of human processes and services. Through digital assets, IT-powered products and services, a significant amount is achieved. It is the amalgamation of physical and digital or human and machine. One can find the crossroads at which they communicate and collaborate. The idea is to create a balance between ecocentric and technocentric perspectives. In this case, it enhances the current and future value of a company. Using design thinking, business planning refers to pushing the edge for achieving greater heights.
Recently, design thinking has grown to become a global movement. Even the earlier processes take into account human empathy and experimentation. That itself is the essence of design thinking. It is a method that flows in phases. It starts with identifying the problems, needs and desires of individuals. To top it off, understanding their personality and relationship with their context is crucial. Lastly, it is followed by suggesting viable, empathetic, and strategic solutions. They need to be mindful of technological, economic, environmental, social, and cultural facets. These are the challenges faced when working at a global level. All these factors need to bind together for the prototype to work in the user’s interest. Although design thinkers experience explosive failures, it is about pushing boundaries and striving to create a better future.
Design thinking has a broad and somewhat vague definition. So is the presence and application of design thinking in our world. The role of design thinking in the 21st century has been to give us strategic foresight. It is about embracing uncertainty and making small but significant bets on the future.
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About the Writer
Saakshar Makhija is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. He is the Co-Founder of Emblema Designs, a graphic design, and digital marketing venture. He has experience working with Rethinking The Future (RTF) and India Lost and Found (ILF) by Amit Pasricha. He attended the summer school organised by the "Rafael Manzano Prize for New Traditional Architecture" by the International Network for Traditional Building, Architecture and Urbanism (INTBAU), Spain.
About the Editor
Esha Biddanda Pavan is an architect and urbanist currently based out of Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the School of Geography and Planning, Cardiff University, UK, and the Visvesvaraya Technological University (VTU), Bangalore. She has experience working at Kitsune Consulting, Cardiff University Business School, Weaving Thoughts, Keha Casa, Kabir Hira Architects and a-designstudio.
About the Illustrator
P. Trishita is an undergraduate architecture student at the School of Planning and Architecture (SPA), Bhopal. She is also a multipotentialite, illustrator, singer, and occasional songwriter.